Back to Beer School
Remember when you were a kid, and someone’s mom or dad hired a magician to perform at a birthday party to wow you and your pre-tween friends? You now know that partridges do not just appear from top hats, but are rather placed there by nimble-fingered illusionists—but you never could figure out how this guy pulled off his card trick. Now it’s time to host your own party, where learning the tricks of the trade is key, instead of mystifying shenanigans.
September is the classic “back to school” time, and I find that a demonstration or loose lesson is a great way to anchor a party before it breaks into chaos. And what’s more relevant a topic than beer? A designated beer expert can prime guests on the fascinating and somewhat magical alchemy of making beer in a convivial atmosphere, while sharing rounds of the drinks for the evening.
This person might be an average homebrewer whom you’re buds with; it might even be yourself. It could be a brewer, head brewer/founder or rep from a local brewery that you adore. Don’t be afraid to reach out to any small business like this and ask to “hire” someone for your birthday party while buying a pony keg or some cases. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that this falls right into their grassroots marketing plan.
Once you’ve got your beer teacher, setting up a scenario that’s lively and entertaining while covering a few basic facts should be smooth as a session brew. Because guests will be coming from various stages of beer knowledge, you’ll want to give an overview of brewing basics, while getting heavy into the nuances of great prototypes, too. Here’s an example of the core lessons to go over:
Malts: How they’re made, and what role they play in beer making
Yeast: The many house yeasts of breweries, and the difference between commercial yeasts from homebrew supply shops that trigger distinct flavors in beers
Hops: The bittering agent that balances beers’ inherent sweetness, and why they were chosen over other herbs and spices to help prevent spoilage
The brewing process: From mash tun to fermentation, bottling and kegging
Granted, that’s enough information for hours or even years of passionate rhapsody from a true beer geek, and you can lose focus quickly if you allow for questions along the way. That’s why it’s best to plan ahead with your instructor, and you may even decide to hone in on just one of these ideas for the night’s topic. And therein lies the possibility of multiple parties in this series of “keg-ucation.” But you know what? That’s why this is a party and not your structured, sit-down “beer class.” Let the conversation roam however you and the guests want, and you can always crank up the music if your expert absolutely refuses to shut up. More often than not, this never needs to happen, and conversations will flow steadily along with the beer. Guests will be appreciative of the lesson, having taken something away from the evening besides a ringing headache the next day. Your local brewery will love you. And the magician fluttering inside you will finally break a smile.
White-glove bonus tricks:
• Bring a carboy that’s currently fermenting, and place it on a table with a loosely fitted cap that will undoubtedly pop off sometime during the fermentation lesson
• Prepare a few different strains of hop pellets in shot glasses, and surprise your beer expert by having him/her try to guess each one
• Make guests close their eyes while they taste a round of brews, and try to identify the general type of yeast used in it ■